Make Up Your Mind: Enhance Your Decision-Making Skills

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To make a good decision, use your intuition coupled with a rational process explains Marie Herman

Do you struggle to make decisions? Do you find that you second guess yourself, going back over decisions you have made, constantly doubting that you made the right choice? Do you find yourself delaying taking action because you just can’t decide what to do?

Poor decision-making skills can haunt our careers, derailing our promotion path, giving our executives reason to believe we are weak and ineffective, and killing our self-confidence.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There can be a method through the madness. Sometimes stepping back and evaluating the impact (or lack thereof) is enough to jump start our brain.

There are several methods of making decisions.

You could use intuition. This method relies on your “gut feeling” or instincts. You might use this when there is a situation of great danger such as a fire and you don’t have time to do a full evaluation of all the alternatives. You almost might rely on this method when you have two relatively equal choices such as hamburger or chicken for dinner or deciding between two job offers. The problem with intuition-based decision making is that negative emotions such as fear or anger or hurt feelings may be driving the process.

An alternative is to use the rational decision-making method. In this process, you weigh all the alternatives based on objective criteria and make the best selection. The drawback of this method is that things may look great on paper, but real life may not be so neat and orderly (hence why online dating service dates don’t always work out the way we anticipate).

Here is the overall decision-making process.

1. Identify the problem/decision to be made

This is the most important part of the process. If you haven’t correctly identified what the problem and desired outcomes are, you risk making unwise choices.

In a professional context, for example, we might focus too closely on leaving a job where we are unhappy without really taking the time to consider what we are moving towards and what would make us happy. As a result, we may simply trade one negative experience for another.

In the same way, if we don’t take the time to map out a career strategy for ourselves, we tend to drift from job to job without any of the jobs moving us closer to our ultimate goal. How could it be otherwise if we don’t know what our ultimate goal is?

2. Brainstorm possible solutions

List all the options you can imagine. Capture all the possibilities, even if some don’t seem immediately feasible. You never know when a crazy idea will spark a reasonable solution.

Using the above example of being in a job where you are unhappy, your options could include complaining to Human Resources (HR) in order to try to effect change in the organization, transferring to another department within the company if you are generally happy with the company but not happy with your executive or an immediate co-worker, finding a new job, starting your own business, quitting without having a job lined up, making life miserable for the person who is making you miserable in the hopes that they will quit or transfer, or staying there and continuing to be unhappy but choosing to adjust your mental attitude to be more accepting of your circumstances. If you brainstormed long enough you might be able to come up with several more options for approaching the situation.

3. Evaluate the options

List the pros and cons and all the mitigating circumstances of the various options. Try to take into account all the factors that have impact, such as financial, moral, ethical, short and long-term goals, impact on relationships, time considerations, lifestyle factors, personal level of importance, skills or preparation needed, etc.

Using my earlier example, you would consider factors like whether you could make the same salary at another company or not, what you would need to do in order to make the same salary (get certified, return to school, update your existing skills, etc.). You would also consider the positive elements of the current position – perhaps you like the rest of your co-workers and really are passionate about the work the company does and it’s an easy commute. These would all be the types of factors that you would consider. This is where you not only look at concrete factors such as the salary you might make elsewhere but the more intangible qualities like a shorter commute allowing you to spend more time with your family and a lesser salary at a job with less weighty responsibilities eliminating burdensome overtime your current job includes.

While some measures are somewhat objective (salary, benefits, etc.), others can only be weighted by you personally. You may consider your time to be more valuable than the money, so long as you have enough money to pay your bills. In that case, trading less overtime for a job that isn’t on the fast track to promotion might be a worthwhile decision for you. Only you can determine your value system and the impact of the decision’s options on yourself.

You’ll also want to spell out the best and worst possible scenarios that could result from the various options. People often overestimate the worst-case scenarios, imagining nightmares that truly have almost no chance of occurring. This is because fear is often behind the thought process. Being realistic will help you to make more reasonable decisions.

For example, when deciding whether to accept a job offer or not, the worst-case scenarios could include they hate you and fire you on day one or you hate the job and want to quit immediately. Stop and think for a moment about how realistic either of those options truly are. The more likely scenario is that you start the new job, love it immediately and then perhaps over time start to love it a little less. That’s a more realistic outcome.

There is a common issue many people face called analysis paralysis. This occurs when you can’t make up your mind between them, for whatever reason. You may have too many choices (such as choosing a dish in a restaurant that seems to have every entrée known to man) or you may feel that the choices are SO important you will ruin life as you know it if you make the wrong choice. You may fear that you won’t be able to do anything to change a decision once it is made, so you delay it for as long as possible.

Analysis paralysis is far more likely to result when you haven’t properly weighed the realistic negative outcomes. If you assign more weight to a possibility that has a very low chance of happening, you may allow it to influence you more than you should. This is common with medical procedures where one in a million people may have a certain side effect. Sometimes choices need to be made based on what the most likely outcome actually is.

4. Make a decision

Once you have weighed out all the pros and cons, it’s time to decide. Consider past similar decisions for guidance to the right option for you. How have they turned out? Are they similar enough that you feel you can make some base assumptions from the prior circumstances?

Consider any deal breakers that may eliminate certain options immediately or at the very least require modification of certain options. An example would be dating a smoker. If that is a deal breaker for you, then you either insist on the person giving up smoking (and then evaluate the success of that request over time) or you discontinue dating them or you establish ground rules if it is not completely a deal breaker – like the person won’t smoke in your presence.

In a work context, the distance of a commute might be a hard deal breaker. You might be willing to drive 30 minutes, but not 45 minutes.

Also ask yourself if you are making a decision from a place of fear or a place of knowledge. One way to help yourself identify which emotion is driving you is to ask yourself what you actually know.

If your company has announced that there will be layoffs, you do know that there will be layoffs, but do you know that your job will be affected directly or are you assuming from a place of fear that your position will be impacted? If your executive leaves, do you know that the new executive that comes in won’t want to have you continue in your position or are you assuming from a place of fear that the new executive will want to bring in their own person?

There is a difference between being prepared for an outcome and taking steps to minimize the damage (such as updating your resume, requesting a meeting with the new executive to ask about likely changes, etc.) versus assuming up front that the worse case scenario will result and therefore you will strike first against it.

I once had a student in one of my certification study groups who was halfway through the study group. Her executive left and she decided to cancel her test as a result, despite my discouraging her from doing so.

I pointed out to her that she was making a decision based on a position of fear, given that the company had given no indication that she was going to lose her job and since no one had yet been hired to replace her old executive (and thus there was no decision being made yet on whether the person would work with her or bring in someone new).

In addition, if she did lose her job, having that certification might have been just the edge to hasten finding a new job, so it was a win/win either way. Nonetheless, she decided to quit the process and canceled her test slot. Later she contacted me to let me know that there had been no discussion of a job change at her present job and that her old executive had contacted her to see if she wanted to go to work with him.

Had she just stayed the course instead of making decisions based on fear, she would have been able to get certified and go work for the new executive (since she could have negotiated payment for the certification exam as a condition of her job offer).

Making serious decisions from a place of fear can have a seriously negative impact on your life. It can lead to you passing up job offers because you fear you will not be able to handle the new responsibilities or lead you to not date someone because you are afraid they will break your heart. Fear causes us to retreat into ourselves, to refuse to put ourselves out into situations where we might experience pain or risk.

But life is risk. We must be willing to step out of our comfort zone if we are ever going to reach our full potential.

5. Implement the decision

Whatever decision you make, once you have made it, you need to implement it. This is the point where you take the steps to make the changes you desire. That may be scheduling a meeting with HR to discuss your concerns, dusting off your resume to start a job search or making a conscious choice to change your attitude towards what you perceive to be your executive’s behavior.

6. Evaluate the decision and make notes for the future

Once you have implemented your decision, you will want to establish checkpoints to evaluate how the decision is working out for you. Has it been successful with the outcome you had hoped for? If not, what else can you do to make progress? Consistent evaluation of your efforts and utilization of that feedback to continue improving your life will lead to much greater likelihoods of success.

The Vroom-Yetton Decision Model

There is another decision-making model that you might find helpful. Its purpose is to determine who should make a decision (i.e. you alone versus bringing in other people for their opinions). It’s known as the Vroom-Yetton Decision Model. It involves a series of questions to identify the decision-making styles.

Is the quality of the decision important?

Is team commitment to the decision important?

Do you have enough information to make the decision on your own?

Is the problem well structured?

If you made the decision yourself, would the team support it?

Does the team share organizational goals?

Is conflict among the team over the decision likely?

Based on the answers to these questions, you would either make the decision yourself, consult with others for their input, or make a decision as a group (an example might be making a decision as a family unit for a job that would involve moving to another city).

There are other decision-making models out there in the world, some of which are for very specific purposes. It’s worth researching the options and learning more about the critical steps of the decision-making process to help you make better decisions. Being realistic about the risks and likelihood of negative outcomes can also encourage you to make faster decisions.

You CAN make better decisions that are based on knowledge but also take into account the intangible qualities that your intuition tells you are important. It just takes a concrete process to sort it all out and come up with the right answer for you.

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About Author

Marie Herman

Marie Herman CAP-OM, ACS, MOSM operates a successful business, MRH Enterprises LLC (www.mrhenterprises.com), whose services include teaching computer and other classes in-person and via the internet, writing articles, and conducting workshops and other speaking engagements. She can be reached at [email protected]

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